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Maccabi Tel Aviv owner Loni Herzikovic is losing his patience.

"I will do everything I can to ensure that Eli Cohen stays at Maccabi Tel Aviv, but he, too, needs to prove himself," Herzikovic said in an interview with Army Radio yesterday after watching his team slump to its third defeat in five games on Saturday.

"I hope the situation is only temporary, but how long can we suffer?" added the famously stoic Maccabi boss. "If it continues, then there will have to changes. Perhaps even the coach will have to be changed."

It was hard to hide the pressure at Maccabi's training ground yesterday evening. Cohen and his assistant, Vicky Peretz, looked in low spirits, and off the record, a Maccabi official said that if the team lost at Herzliya on Saturday, Cohen would be heading home.

However, Maccabi will not find it easy to terminate Cohen's contract. The club is in severe financial difficulties, and according to sources at Maccabi, Herzikovic does not have the money to bring in another coach in Cohen's place. "Neither does he have the funds to pay Cohen compensation," one source added. "He would prefer for the coach to quit, and that doesn't look like it's about to happen."

Meanwhile, Herzikovic's salvation could come from a group of Russian businessmen with connections to the London-based oligarch and Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

Two years ago, the consortium made an offer to Herzikovic, but the deal never matured. At the time, the consortium agreed to cover Maccabi's debts of NIS 115 million, to pay Herzikovic a further $5 million, and to put up a budget of $20-25 million a season - a sum that would have made Maccabi Israel's richest club.

A member of the consortium confirmed the group's interest to Haaretz yesterday, but noted that it was aware of Maccabi's current situation and would not be willing to offer the same kind of sums as two years ago.